Thursday, February 17, 2011

11.04 The Russian Girl by Kingsley Amis

The Russian Girl (1992) by Kingsley Amis
Trade, Penguin

I was looking around in the local used bookstore for some Kingsley Amis that I had never read before. The guy said that this one rarely ever came in to the shop and so I picked it up, intrigued. It is from nearly the end of Amis' bibliographywhich I was not aware of at the time but now seems a bit obvious. The writing doesn't have that crispness that you see in Lucky Jim or The Anti-Death League.

Nevertheless, what Amis writes well about Englishness or more particularly those detailed social interactions that are so particular to the British upper middle class. That class is ably represented by Richard Vaisey, a Russian scholar at the London Institute of Slavonic Studies. He's an intellectual, repressed bourgeoisie married a wealthy and manipulative woman but thoroughly satisfied with his lot. The Russian girl he meets is Anna Danilova, a poet visiting England to raise support for a petition to free her brother, a petty thief unfairly held in a Soviet prison. Anna's poetry is sort of comically bad and Richard's struggle is with his attraction to her and his loathing of her poetry.

The situation will be familiar to anyone who has ever compromised their integrity for love. I can't say that I loved this book although it was interesting. In the end it seemed a bit too much like it was mocking the intellectual pretentiousness that Amis represented himself.

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